Just Open the Box, Dammit

I am Schrodinger’s Cat. And I’m getting a little sick of it, frankly. Is it too much to ask for the wave function to collapse already? Yeah, I know. At the end of it all I might be dead. I might not. But at least the whole mess will be #$@# settled.

Fine, it’s a metaphor. Or rather, a metaphorical description of an actual situation. (And for anyone who hasn’t a clue what I’m talking about, Google “Schrodinger’s Cat,” and you’ll find more than you ever wanted to know). The point is that I’m trying to be two things at once, and they are mutually exclusive things, so basically I’m at war with myself on a continual basis, and how’s that working out? Not so well. I know I’m not alone in this, in fact I strongly suspect that many of you out there are have the same problem, and this is it in the proverbial nutshell—I want my work to be well known and widely read. I personally do not want to be well known. But achieving one almost always negates the other, unless you’re writing under a pseudonym, and even that’s not a gurantee.

From a practical standpoint, writing is the perfect avocation for someone who doesn’t especially want to be noticed. Continue reading

Hypnogogic Pedagogue

That’s probably wrong, but it sounds cool. Regardless, I was doing the drifting in and out of consciousness thing a few nights ago and at one point heard my mother speaking to me:

“You have to settle things with your bitter jacket.”

Sure, I’ve had several jackets over the years, some I probably treated better than others, but I can’t recall any with hard feelings toward me or its life as a jacket. I was just awake enough to think, “That made no sense” and just asleep enough to think that maybe it did. Continue reading

Subverting the Subversive

 I’ve been thinking, yet again, about the notion of “subversion” in general as it relates to sf/f. Unlike the alleged real world, where subversion is what outfits like Homeland Security and the NSA will try to get you disappeared over, in our genre subversion is rated a Good Thing by reviewers and academics alike (readers perhaps have a different idea, but we’re not talking about them right now). Perhaps even the highest achievement to which a sf/f story can aspire. If you doubt that, just try to remember the last time you saw the term “subversive” used in a genre review where it was regarded as a bad thing. Take your time. Continue reading

“Don’t Share That! You Don’t Know Where It’s Been!”

What does this mean? Maybe it means there’s nothing new under the sun. Or there are only so many ideas that can exist at one time. Or someone else is always smarter than you are. Or Ray Bradbury’s passing has me unhinged and I need to talk about something at least marginally less depressing. Lots of potential significance to hand out, for those interested in significance. Sometimes I am. Interested, that is. Not significant. And I certainly wouldn’t rule out the “unhinged” part.

That bit of surreality brought to you by my prior reading, a collection of interviews with the likewise gone but always eccentric Edward Gorey. He said, among other things and I do paraphrase, “I have this crazy theory–I think that good art is not about what it seems to be about.” The interview was from, oh, twenty years ago or so. It just smacked me on the head because, now and then when I do panels at conventions, some wannabee/hopeful/beginner/glutton for punishment sometimes asks, “How do you know if a story you’re writing is going to be any good?” The obvious answer of course is “You don’t.” Even so, at least in my case, there eventually comes a point, usually before the end, when I do, in fact, know that I’ve hit the mark or missed it. And I’ve said it so many times it’s become my stock answer, mostly because it’s true: “For any given story, you have to ask yourself two questions: 1) What’s the story about? and 2) Ok, now what’s it really about? If I can answer both questions, then the story usually works.” This is not meant to be flip. On the contrary, it is deadly serious, since the first question refers to what happens in the story, but what happens in the story isn’t the story. On the surface, “Romeo and Juliet” is about a family feud, but that’s not what it’s really about. Anyway, Gorey said it first. Or at least before I did. Probably because it’s really obvious. Well, once you see it, that is. Like most “obvious” things.

Okay, there’s also something else we need to get out of the way while we’re both here–I have no Inner Child, okay? I am my Inner Child. I think Ray Bradbury is primarily responsible for that–he certainly led by example. So what I’ve got here is an Inner Fatuous Old Man, and sometimes he takes over. Maybe like now.

Just consider the source.

The Road to Hell is Really Paved With Killer Opening Lines

I’ve been thinking about first lines. Yes, you want to hook the reader, or at least have them think that oh, maybe this story won’t be a complete waste of my precious time. Yet there’s a fine line there between hooking the reader and false advertising, which is the same thing as cheating. And we’ve already been over the subject of cheating the reader, and all you really have to remember is this–don’t. Not ever. So I approach the subject of “first lines” with a mixture of fascination and unease. I’m kind of with Damon Knight on the whole notion, which I paraphrase: “The problem with starting a story with a really killer first line is that writers often spend the entire balance of the piece trying to justify it.” With the implication being that they’re doing this “rather than telling the darn story.” I think there’s truth in that. Yes, you want a good opening hook, but that hook is usually set in the first paragraph, not the first line. Even an impatient reader will trust you that far, if no farther. What you want is a first line that will lead the reader to the the second line, which leads them to the third and, well, you get the idea. A first line is important, but you don’t necessarily need it to grab the reader by the scruff if you can lead them by the hand. It is, as we’ve talked about before, a matter of trust. The first line has to convince the reader to trust you enough to read farther. The first line has to carry the implication, the hint, that you know what you’re doing. You may not believe you do, and that’s fine, nay even realistic. You’re trying to convince the reader. Continue reading